Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christmas Mornings, Christmas Memories

This is it. This is the year.
My four-year-old is beside himself with excitement over Christmas this year. Full-on squealing glee. And do you know who is sharing in that overwhelming enthusiasm?
Growing up, times were tough. My parents owned a farm, and unless it's a corporate or large-scale farm, that's not a lucrative business. We had our necessities, but luxuries were a rarity. And that was okay. I had a great childhood, and I grew up to appreciate the simple pleasures in life. I understand that the truest riches are our families.
Despite not having the money to buy us the newest gaming system or a new wardrobe of labelled clothing, my parents still made Christmas magical for myself and my two siblings...
Christmas Eve. The three of us kids would go to bed at a fairly reasonable (though later than a school night) hour. But that didn't mean any sleeping was going to happen, not right away and not on my part anyway! I would lay awake and listen as my parents made trips up and down the hallway from their bedroom to the living room. I would crack open my door to hear the sound of wrapping paper, scotch tape, and their quiet laughter.
Eventually, they would make a final trip down the hallway to go to bed. I would wait, silent and still, to be sure that they had gone to bed and that neither of them was going to come back down the hallway to leave one last gift or to get a drink of water from the kitchen. When I was sure that it was "safe," I would sneak from my room and creep to the living room, flashlight in hand. There, under the Christmas tree, would be our gifts.
I have to admit that, especially as I got older, there was more than just excitement that led me to sneak out there...
I wanted to make sure that it would be a good Christmas.
Allow me to explain because I'm sure that sounds horrible. I know now as I knew then that presents are not the reason for the season and that it's not about how many gifts are under the tree. But I also wanted to make sure that each Christmas would feel magical. I wanted my brother and sister to be overwhelmed by all that they received, and I wanted to see the smile in my parents' eyes when they knew that they had succeeded in making the day magical. I guess, if anything, I was preparing myself. If I had ever gone out and seen very little under the tree, I was prepared to make it feel like we had still been given Solomon's riches.
I never had to worry about that. I don't know how they did it, but my parents always managed to fill the floor under that tree.
Actually, I do know how they did it. They didn't buy each other gifts. More on that later...
Anyway, I would sneak out and look at the piles of gifts. With a sigh of relief, I would return to my bedroom...generally to lay awake in anticipation, rarely falling asleep before 11:00.
By 3:00 in the morning, I was awake again, waiting for my parents' alarm clock to go off at 4:00. Because, yes, the cows get milked and fed on Christmas; there's no vacation for farmers. Finally, I'd hear that sharp beep, beep, beep from the end of the hall. I would listen as Mom got up first, making a trip to the bathroom before working her way down the hall. The front door would open and close. Then, a little while later (that always seemed like hours), Dad would finally get up and head down to the barn. As with the night before, I would wait, making sure that neither of them returned to the house for something they had forgotten.
By 4:30, I was in the living room. If my brother wasn't there already, he would soon join me. And sometimes my sister, when she'd wake up early. We'd turn on the lights of the Christmas tree and just stare.
The rule was that we could not touch any of the gifts under the tree. And believe me, we were good kids. We didn't touch a single one. And our parents, being sneaky, would always hide the tags so that we couldn't see which gifts were for whom. We would crank our necks in all directions, practically stand on our heads, but we wouldn't touch a single gift. Not that we thought we'd get into trouble...not because we feared Christmas would be cancelled...
...but because that was a part of the tradition and the fun!
We were allowed to open our stockings before our parents came up from the barn, and we would often wait until all three of us kids were awake so we could open the stockings together. Then, one year, my sister didn't wake up until 8:30 (my Mom had to wake her up). After that, the first two up would open their stockings together. Anyway, as we got older, there would often be one gift set aside with the stockings with a note that we could open that one early. It was usually a new card or board game, and my siblings and I would pass the time playing the game until our parents came up from the barn.
That generally happened between 7:00 and 7:30. We would be at the front window, waiting and watching, and as soon as they rounded the side of the barn, the squeals of "They're coming! They're coming!" would start. For some reason, we would arrange ourselves on the floor facing the door (like we were being posed for a Sears portrait) so that we could shout "Merry Christmas!" as our parents came in the front door.
The first order of business for our parents would be to change out of their barn clothes and into something cleaner and more comfortable. That always felt like it took forever! Finally, they would rejoin us in the living room where Dad would state with his characteristic smirk, "Guess I'll eat some breakfast and take a nap before we open presents." The three of us would scream, "No!!!" and he'd laugh that wonderful chuckle that I hear even now as I type this.
Then, the opening of gifts would commence. We would make Mom and Dad open their stockings first. Often, the contents of those stockings was all that they would get for each other, so we loved to see the ways that they'd surprise each other on a small scale. (My husband and I do the same; we have all we need, so why not focus on the little guy?)
Then, it was time for the gifts under the tree. Dad would hand out the gifts at Mom's direction ("Start with that one. No, that other one has to be first..."), and he would only hand out one gift at a time. I love that they did that. No wild, pell-mell tearing into gifts with the unwrapping concluding in five minutes. No, we took the entire morning. We got to see and appreciate both the gift and the reaction. We got to share Christmas with each other. As I said, I love that they did that.
Now, my Dad has a bit of a notorious reputation when it comes to Christmas. He didn't do it every year, but once in a while he would sneak out and buy gifts that Mom knew nothing about. Many times, those gifts were for my Mom. One year, with the three of us kids being in on the surprise, he handed her a large wrapped gift that seemed shaped like a mailbox. Puzzled, Mom opened it to find another wrapped box. And another wrapped box. Several wrapped boxes (and delightful giggles from her children) later, Mom unwrapped the small, velvety box containing a new emerald ring. Her tears and dad's laugh (his eyes were glistening, too) still ring out in my memory.
Probably the Christmas that stands out the most is the one that Dad really snuck out and surprised us all. Looking back, I'm wondering if that was a year when scraping together the money for Christmas seemed a little more difficult, if Dad wanted to provide a little extra magic for that reason...
We had finished unwrapping our gifts and were still basking in that euphoria, when Dad said that there were some gifts that were missing. Mom looked at him with confusion all over her face. She kept good track of gifts and knew exactly what everyone was getting; what was he talking about?
He pushed a gift over to my sister. With delight, she unwrapped this awesome '57 Chevy for her Barbies to cruise around in. A big box was slid over to my brother who screamed and jumped around when he got an immense blimp for his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Then, it was my turn. Somewhat sheepishly, Dad handed me my package. It was a brown paper bag. Over the top of it was some crumpled red tissue paper taped into place. In black marker, he had written "It's not the package but what's inside that counts." Leary, I opened the rag-tag gift...and burst into tears.
Now, this may seem silly to you, and I am okay with that. For months, months, I had been coveting a large, stuffed orangutan from one of the local department stores. It was ridiculously overpriced, so I had no hopes of getting it, but I still went to that section of the store and hugged those stuffed apes every time we went there. Even at 16-years-old, I wanted that stuffed animal.
And that stuffed orangutan was staring up at me from the inside of that brown paper bag.
Now that I have become a parent, and especially this year, I understand how much it means to be able to provide magic to your child. We all know, especially as tragic events unfold on the news, that there isn't much magic in the world sometimes. Christmas morning is one of those few occasions when we can try to shut out that outside world and just wrap ourselves in love and wonder.
In that moment, hugging that giant stuffed animal, I forgot that we didn't have much money, that times were tight. In that moment, we were rich in all the best of ways.
And so, I want my son to experience those same feelings.
He has lately fallen in love with the movie Toy Story. Actually, the entire trilogy. And let me tell you, so have I. All those feelings that my toys were real come back to me when I watch the movies with him.
In asking him what he wanted Santa to bring him this year, my little guy informed us that he wanted all of Woody's friends, and then he proceeded to list them off, keeping track on his little fingers: "I need Jessie and Bullseye...and Mr. Potato Head...Oh, and Mrs. Potato Head because they love each other and have to be together..."
I wrote out his requests for Santa, and later in the day, I began to search through for his requests.
The third movie came out two years ago, and while all three of them are still wildly popular, not all of the toys are readily available. And if they are, they are wildly marked up by private sellers. Great. The piggie bank, Ham, was so marked up and unavailable that I knew I wouldn't be able to add that to his collection.
Then, I remembered. Years ago, my son had been given a little toy piggie bank. It was pink; it was a pig; it was perfect. I reminded him of this bank and said that he could use that for Ham. Truthfully, I expected him to balk at the idea. It wasn't the real Ham, after all, and my son can be very specific and obstinate in how his little world works.
To my surprise, he said, "Yes, Mommy! That's a good idea!"
To the warming of my heart, he said, "Now Santa doesn't have to bring me this. He can get Ham for another little boy who doesn't have any toys."
And he did that for several of the toys that we found "duplicates" for amongst the toys in his toy box. And while searching for those duplicates, he pulled out other toys that he can donate to "those little boys without any toys." And he helped me pick out toys for a little boy living in a local homeless shelter because "he doesn't have a house and Santa can't find him."
Presents aren't everything. They have only a small bearing on the true meaning of Christmas. But in his own way, he's starting to understand the giving aspect of the season. He's starting to learn compassion.
And he's definitely experiencing wonder, a promise that I made to myself when I became a mother.
This year, when he wakes up on Christmas morning, he's going to feel that same sense of wonder that I had as a child. He's going to be thrilled that Santa fulfilled his list. He's going to be surprised that even Mommy and Daddy bought him some presents. And he is going to know...because his father and I will tell loved and blessed that he is.
Just as I was loved and blessed by my parents.


Friday, December 14, 2012

My Heart Breaks


Like many of you, I went home from work today and hugged my little boy a little tighter and a little longer than I normally do. The horrific acts committed in Newtown, Connecticut, today have surely touched a raw nerve in our hearts. I'm sure, too, that I am not the only one who burst into tears watching the news, who keeps breaking into tears at the thought of such a terrible and unspeakable loss.
I am so profoundly sad tonight.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Bit of This, That, and the Holidays

The end of the year always seems to get away from me when it comes to creativity. I suppose, though, it's for not just good but for great reason: the holidays! Getting ready for Christmas takes up a good chunk of time with the decorating, baking, purchasing, and wrapping. My little guy is so excited this year; I've never seen him so excited!
The Wonder of Christmas
Other than some pics on my iPhone and the very occasional processing of a picture from previous months, I haven't been too creative. I'm somewhat okay with that. I have some ideas on the backburner that I'm hoping to bring to fruition in the new year. But more on that in another post.
In the mean time, some of the images I've actually been able to get to recently...
Almost There

Now, it's off to wrap a surprise present for a Christmas party tonight. The little guy will get to see Santa and will get an early gift for being such a good boy this year. Can't wait!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Different Approach

Those who read my last post know that I have effectively been kicked off of Society6 for speaking my mind and for calling them out on their lack of artist protection. Jerks.
But I have to express my gratitude to those jerks.
Posting on their site was easy. Upload, set price, do nothing. I made a couple of sales, which was rewarding, and found some great fellow artists to connect with (the only aspect that I'll truly miss).
But seriously. They made more money out of the relationship than I did. And that just isn't right.
On the day after my account was suspended, my daily horoscope told me that I was relying on connections that weren't going to get me anywhere, that I needed to branch out on my own and trust myself, my talents, to get the success that I want.

It struck a chord with me. And as someone who believes that everything happens for its own cosmic and karmic reason, I took the injustice from Society6 to be a sign that it was time to go in a new direction.

I'm now in the process of doing just that. I had a semi-defunct Etsy shop on which I used to sell some jewelry, but now I'm going to turn it into a site for selling my photographs. I changed the name and information and added my new store logo this morning:

I also started to look for professional print labs to print my images. I placed an order with a company out of Maryland that has good reviews, and I'm anxious to see what my print looks like. A talented artist friend suggested another site that I plan to look into, as well. Then, it'll be a matter of setting up my shop!
Fingers crossed, this is the direction that I'm supposed to take. We shall see!!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

An Act of Civil Disobedience

I post much of my photography on the Society6 website for sale. I haven't made enough to retire (Ha ha), but I have made a couple of sales, which is very fulfilling.
Last night, while perusing the artwork of others, I came across this post from a fellow artist:
Out of curiosity, I looked through the offending site and did, in fact, find one of my images. I took two courses of action. First, I posted a review of my product calling out the site for copyright infringement (so I may have called it outright "theft") and asked my friends to do the same. Then, I sent a letter to Society6's copyright agent. I was a little ticked off, but I didn't feel that it was too strongly worded:
Dear Society6,

What are you doing about this:

This site is blatantly stealing artwork from Society6 and its artists. That piece in the picture is my photograph, posted on your website, and stolen for use on another website. My intellectual property and rights (And those of apparently hundreds of your artists) are being spit upon and your reputation is suffering.

So what are you doing about it? Has a cease and desist letter been sent? Have you notified the parent company of the website to have it shut down? Will you send out a form letter in reply to me stating the usual blah-blah-blah?

Awaiting your reply to see whether I keep my Society6 page...

Okay. So maybe it was semi-strongly worded. But I was, admittedly, ticked off. Not too long after I had sent the message, I got this in reply:
Hi Nichole,

Thank you for contacting Society6 Support.

It is incredibly important to us that you understand that we do everything in our power to maintain your trust as an artist - and also to take proactive measures to ensure that we help you sell more of your products.

Our product previews are presented at 600px, even though 800px is now the industry acceptable standard for product previews. It has been determined that at this size (and at screen resolution) there is no way to reproduce a decent printed product. We are confident that your images are currently safe, and have limited the preview size with that consideration in mind.

Disabling right clicks is not a true protection and anyone that is stealing images understands how you can still grab a right click disabled image. Furthermore, even if you disable the click, you can always take a screen shot.

If your desire is to sell your products, then we have to take every action to both protect your images but also make them compelling for customers to purchase, and easy to promote thru social media, blogs, and other websites on the Internet.

We really appreciate your understanding and appreciate your continued support.

Yup. Just as I had predicted. A form letter. The exact same one that others had received. Well, now I'm really ticked. I realize that they don't have time to send a personal reply to everyone. But still....So I replied. Perhaps my ire was rather apparent:
Thank you for sending me the usual form letter, the same you send to other artists contacting you with the same issue. It must feel quite rewarding to work for a company that provides you with the opportunity to be an automaton.

Though this is obviously an exercise in futility in my part, I will endeavor to get a personalized and human response.

Perhaps you didn't look at the link provided in my initial contact. Had you done so, you would see my intellectual property on an unauthorized website. Sure, your site may offer a less-than-ideal screen resolution that "prevents" theft...

...But obviously theft is occurring. And if someone purchases this less-than-perfect image from that site...well, guess what. They are still purchasing it. And someone else is profiting from MY work.

Then again, so is Society6. Perhaps that is why I get the same laissez-faire form letter as everyone else.

Go ahead. Prove me wrong. Prove that real human beings who really care about the artists are involved in Society6.

I'm waiting...

Perhaps it was too much, for this is what greeted me next:
Touche, Society6. Touche.
And I'm not the only one. From reading the comments to the original posting, at least one other has been suspended for voicing her dismay. And when people began complaining on the Society6 Facebook page, they shut down the ability to leave them comments. Hmm...
So here is my newest reply. We'll see what happens next:
A "temporarily suspended" account.
Shall I assume that it was suspended while an investigation into the offending website (which seems to have since been shut down) was launched? Or shall I assume that you didn't like my reply to your form letter? 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Solo Drive

Most of my photographic forays are with my constant crew, my husband and son. And most of my photos are taken while cruising down the road. It's not always ideal, but it's always a fun challenge and I make do fairly well, I think.
The other day, though, I had an opportunity to go on a solo drive through some local farmland. It was a foggy, misty day. The landscape was lovely but too wet to get out and do much. So, I did what any self-respecting photographer would do in those conditions. I drove around anyway and shot from the window of my vehicle.
I have so many other pictures in this folder, all of them processed already. I was feeling so inspired that I just sat and went through them all!
And I have to admit it was nice to find some moments of peace, to get lost in beauty and the art of capturing it. My head has been so full of noise this month. For a little while, the only noise was a light breeze, the skittering of leaves across pavement, and the whirr of my camera's shutter...


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Bringing Books to Life!

My little guy has been going to Story Hour at the public library for a little while now. They host it three or four times a year for several weeks at a time, and he loves it. My mom just got a library card, so she has been having him check out a new book every week. Well, though he has other favorite characters, every book that he has brought home has been a Curious George book.
The current one inspired me and we had a night dedicated to the book and to actively engaging in it...
Curious George and the Pizza Party
In the story, George gets invited to a pizza party, creates a mess, but still has a great time. After reading it for the ninth or tenth time, I asked the little guy if he wanted to have a pizza party. Did he?! Boy, did he ever!
So, we went shopping for ingredients today, and for dinner tonight, we made pizza. I made one for Hubby and I (admittedly to be on the safe side); and then we went to town making pizzas for the little guy!
In the story, they end up making pizzas of different shapes, so the little guy made four differently shaped pizzas: a triangle, a rectangle, a house, and Curious George's head (the last two inspired by the pizza shapes in the story).
Rolling out the dough takes concentration.
Slopping on the sauce!
Adding the cheese takes special concentration.
The finished products!
Half done already! "Mommy, this is the best pizza ever!"
And a certain someone is thinking that he has a future
career as a chef! He cleaned up his plate and had seconds!
We had such a blast! He couldn't wait to help make the pizza and insisted on doing everything that he could all by his big boy self. Then, while the pizza baked, we read the story and talked about how yummy his pizza was going to taste.
It was just so much fun. I wonder how we can make the next book come alive!!!


Monday, October 8, 2012

Six Years Change Nothing

Every time I write this post, I delete it. I can't find the right words this year...And I'm afraid of seeming contrived and attention-seeking, as I know that is an accusation that has been leveled at me before.

This post isn't for anyone but me, an acknowledgement to the son I lost and to the broken heart that I will nurse until I can hold him again.





Saturday, September 29, 2012

You Can't Go Home Again...Can You?

I have been putting this blog post off for several weeks. And at first, it just seemed that I had other things that I wanted to post first. However, I've been realizing that I've simply been putting it off and pretending that it's for reasons other than the truth.
The truth is...this post makes me melancholy.
Several weeks ago, we drove north to visit my grandparents. Although we hadn't planned it (and I hadn't wanted to), we drove past where I used to live. I had my camera in hand, as I always do, and I took pictures. I uploaded those images and processed them. And I stared...
It's not my home anymore.
Elements are still there, surely. But it's not the same place, not the same landscape.
Perhaps the saying is true, that you can't go home again.
Or perhaps there's another sentiment that is more accurate. Perhaps it is truly a matter of "Home is where the heart is." My memories may have some of their roots on the old farm, but my heart dwells elsewhere now...
All My Memories, Neat Little Rows
circa 198?
Not Always Like This
circa 2012
 It's all changed. Gone is the cornfield where we once got "lost". Gone is the silt bank that I once watched one of my cousins climb despite being told we were not allowed to play there. Gone are the paths where we used to go sledding on without sleds.
But. But I don't need to see the farm literally as it once was to still see the farm as it was. My memory does a fine job in conjuring back my childhood home.

A Glimpse of Home
Home is where your heart is. Your memories are where your childhood lives forever.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Autumnal Ecstasy!

Aside from the whole back-to-school aspect, I love autumn. The colors. The crisp feeling in the air. Blue jeans and hoodies. Halloween and horror movies on cable.
Yes, I love it all.
So in homage to this, my favorite season, here are some autumnal scenes:
A Walk Through Autumn

Autumn Road

Remains of the Day

The View from Where I Stood
The Way to Go

A Red Barn in Autumn
So what's your favorite season? What makes you love it so much?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Crazy Mary

"Down an old dirt road..."
Have you ever heard the song "Crazy Mary"? Pearl Jam has an awesome version of which I'm quite fond. While processing some rural images the other weekend, I was struggling for titles, something that doesn't often happen to me, admittedly. Then, it came to me...the first lines of the song. And I went with it...
No Loitering Allowed

Past the Parson's Place

The House of Mary

Saturday, September 8, 2012

(Insert Scream Here)

I am so stressed out!!!
There. I feel a little better. Sometimes you just need to release a primal scream in order to feel better, you know? And it's Saturday, so that goes a long way to feeling a sense of relief. Partly because I get to be creative today! Of course, I have have spent my time so far posting images and trying to catch up with the work of my creative colleagues. I WILL be creating again soon as I finish this post!
Since I have been feeling stressed, I decided that I should post images that relieve that stress. To that end, here is a brief respite into a land called Breathe...

"A Spot to Breathe"

"Where Dreams May Come"
There. I feel even better!
What makes you feel better when you're stressed and overwhelmed?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Saturday Submissions

(Ducks head in shame)
Hi, folks. It's been a while, huh? Life got crazy. I guess I'll detail what's been going on and what I'm going to do about it! And a shout out to my friends Dave and Laura; they've posted to their blogs and got me moving to post to mine! Thanks, guys!
So, here's what you've missed:
1. Back to school! My schedule got a huge upheaval this year, so suddenly school became all-consuming. After an initial all-out meltdown, I've decided to just prove my mettle by doing a great job this year and not letting things get to me. It's a struggle; I have to be honest. But I've gotten some serious validation about the job that I do. I've been told what an impact I have on these kids. I'm going to stay true to that.
2. My little guy is starting preschool this coming week! Where did the time go? I've been spending time with him and trying to absorb all the childlike wonder that he has. He is so sweet and silly and goofy. I just adore him, and I am ever amazed by him!
3. I started a weight loss journey this summer. Right after our eleventh wedding anniversary, Hubby and I started counting calories, watching portions, and making healthier choices. Since July 7th, Hubby has lost 27 pounds (Men! Right?), and I have lost 13 pounds. For a little while, I was seeing the pounds come up but wasn't really seeing results. Now? Wow. I have a waist again. My saddle bags are dropping off. My butt is even smaller! And Hubby is taking notice. ;)
4. Creativity feels like it has come to a complete standstill. I haven't processed pictures in a while, and I certainly haven't made any hands-on art.
Which brings me to...
5. Saturday is going to become my creative day. I am going to try to devote my morning (before my little guy wakes up anyway) to creative endeavors. And that includes blogging. I want to devote more time to the things that bring me personal, selfish happiness during my coffee-sipping, early hours!
So, here you go! A glimpse of some little creative endeavors I did squeeze in last weekend. A trip to the Rose Garden which yielded pretty floral shots and some cute portraits, some imaginative dress-up play with my little guy, and some rural shots from a visit to my old stomping grounds:
Pretty in Pink


Taking in the World

Mr. Bright Eyes

Mommy's Little Swashbuckler

Bits and Pieces

On a Day Just Like This

Sing a Song of Summer
I guess I've been more creative than I realized! Yay!
Have a great Labor Day Weekend! Enjoy your time off, time spent with family and friends. And take some time to do something for yourself, something that you enjoy!
See you next Saturday!